Heli-skiing east of Kaslo in the Purcell Mountains.

Proposed heli-ski tenure application borders Kokanee Glacier Park

Koootenay Heli-Ski Ltd. wants to operate on crown land 30 km north of Nelson.

There could be another adventurous activity near Nelson next winter if everything goes as planned for Kootenay Heli-Ski. Owner Wendell Maki has applied for crown land to offer day heli-skiing 30 km north of Nelson, hugging the boundaries of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

Maki submitted a management plan with the application to the Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations on March 5. Maki owns Kootenay Valley Helicopters, based at the Nelson airport.

The plan outlines intentions to be operating by the 2015-16 season with more than 70 proposed helicopter landing sites to access ski and snowboard runs over 14,666 hectares, with flight paths mapped out to travel around the provincial park air space.

Touted as the cat skiing capital of BC, there are five operators in the West Kootenay and a smattering of alpine backcountry lodges for self-propelled skiers and boarders. Stellar Heliskiing and Snowwater Heliskiing and Boarding are two existing operators.

Based out of Kaslo, Stellar holds 80,000 hectares of terrain in the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains. Many people book a day or two of heli-skiing or boarding to complement a multi-day stay at cat-skiing lodges like Retallack, Baldface Lodge or Selkirk Wilderness Skiing.

According to Nelson Kootenay Lake executive director Dianna Ducs cat skiing is a “big economic booster” for the region January through April. “People come to cat ski, but also spend time in the communities and at the neighbouring ski hills – Red and White.”

Economic benefits to Nelson could come from more hotel and restaurant visits as the proposal does not include accommodations. Kootenay Heli-Ski projects 320 client days in 2015-16 season, more than doubling to 700 in year two, and 900 in year three. The management report also estimates its full capacity would be 1,300 client days by 2019.

A wildlife impact assessment and aerial mountain goat survey with recommendations to reduce human-wildlife interaction were included with the application.

According to the report, the proponent is aware of the potential effects on mountain goat habitat use and distributions during the winter, and hired biologist Doris Hausleitner of Seepanee Ecological Consulting, to prepare operational strategies to minimize impacts on mountain goats near the company’s operating area. The proponent has amended the proposed zones in the tenured area, eliminating all goat habitats.

A commitment “to implement a monitoring plan which includes annual training of pilots and guides in the mitigation strategies as well as maintaining records of all wildlife habitat use and proximity to heli-ski runs” was also identified within the document.

The application acknowledges the tenure area “will not be exclusive” and overlaps may occur for other uses and authorizations.

“Kootenay Heli-Ski will have enough flexibility to manage potential resource-based activities that may occur from time to time,” it read.

It’s too early to know if the proposed application will be approved.

Natural resource specialist Erin Keith from FrontCounter BC in Cranbrook said the application will now be referred to government agencies including the ministries of environment and transportation, plus general stakeholders like the Regional District of Central Kootenay and any other tenure holders or guide outfitters.

Hugh Ackroyd, BC Parks area supervisor for the Kootenay Lake area, which includes Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, said he couldn’t comment on the issue as he has yet to see the referral. He said a referral would likely go to the ecosystems branch first, who would then advise him if they noted any concerns.

There is First Nations consultation as well. Keith said often in the Kootenay Boundary six or seven nations overlap, so FrontCounterBC sends each nation the application package for a chance to comment.

A ministry land officer will do a more technical review of the proposal, including all comments, which can play into the decision. A decision can be expected by mid-July as the land officer has 140 days from the application date for the entire process.

The ministry is accepting public comments regarding the application until May 2 at FrontCounter BC in Cranbrook or by email: AuthorizingAgency.Cranbrook(at)gov.bc.ca.

For more information visit http://arfd.gov.bc.ca/ApplicationPosting/viewpost.jsp?PostID=48586.

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